In June 1778, George Byron ‘Beau’ Brummell was born to a perfectly normal and non-descript family in Berkshire. Indeed, it is perhaps indicative of the boisterous nature of the present times that he rose up through Society (and then fell from it) in such a spectacular manner.
Educated at Eton and then Oxford, Brummell began his career by taking a commission with the Tenth Dragoon’s in 1794, the Price of Wales’ personal regiment. He and ‘Prinny’ soon struck up a friendship. In fact, Brummell rather took the entire regiment by storm. The regiment was (for Brummell’s purposes) an extended meet-and-greet of Society. The Tenth Dragoon’s is the regiment to join, with the officers having extremely and unusually high mess and uniform bills. Given that officers in any regiment have to provide their own horses, uniforms and cover their own expenses (and that certain figures look upon officers who require their wages to live upon with suspicion) this is saying something. By 1796 he had risen from the lowest rank of Cornet to that of a Captain, but was well known for shirking his duties. If nothing else, he had certainly caused a stir.
Then, Brummell’s military career came to an abrupt end. The regiment was posted from London to Manchester. And, naturally, he declined to go.
Brummell remained in London and in close company with the Prince Regent. Here, he is credited with setting the current tastes in gentlemen’s fashions: the expertly tied and starched cravat, the closely fitting breeches, and the expertly crafted and tailored suit. Making claims to the effect that he took five hours to dress, polished his boots with champagne and that a man could be dressed on £800 (an extraordinary sum), the fashionable set flocked to see him engage in his toilette.
This may have made him popular, it didn’t make him rich.
Having already received his inheritance and found it inadequate, Brummell’s income, from his time in the regiment onwards, had not been sufficient to support his mode of living. Where others might have economised, at this point, Brummell gambled. And, where others might have sought to ingratiate himself more with his richer and more powerful friends, Brummell decided to ask Lord Alvanley who his ‘fat friend’ (i.e. the Prince Regent) was.
The royal friendship, which had played a significant role in lifting Brummell into the higher echelons of society, was at an end.
While Brummell, perhaps through talent or sheer force of will, managed to hang onto his social position, he was eventually forced to flee his London creditors in 1816. Brummell escaped to France where he has since lived in what is politely called ‘reduced circumstances’. Nevertheless, he has thus far held onto his gentlemanly principles, whatever you choose to make of such a thing, and has steadfastly refused to publish a memoir that would have undoubtedly made him a fortune in our gossip-hungry society.